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There is no denying it: the holidays can be rough. At the same time, they can also be opportunities for connection, joy, and wonder. For most people, it’s a mixed bag. For those in recovery, though, the holidays can add serious extra challenges. From the hectic pace to family commitments and booze everywhere—it’s a perfect storm. Here we offer some tips for not only getting through the holidays with sobriety intact, but for thriving throughout the season’s festivities.

Recovery first.

Although this should go without saying, recovery activities like 12-step group meetings, outpatient treatment, or other critical support activities can be easy to put on the back burner when things heat up. Maybe you’re traveling, have out of town guests, or are working extra hours. Whatever the case, prioritizing your recovery each day is a good idea. It will ensure you’re not scrambling at the last minute or setting yourself up to be tempted. We suggest making a plan for the week ahead and mapping out what recovery activities you will do. Put them in a calendar, and stick to it. Making your recovery a priority will help you stay sane, sober, and more likely to get through the season with some grace. On top of all that, when we prioritize our spiritual wellness, we are better able to actually enjoy what’s going on.

Participate

Many recovering alcoholics and addicts have spent years on the sidelines of life. Often, we didn’t show up at all, and when we did, we didn’t bring our best selves. This situation is usually made worse by the guilt and shame of the awareness that we would like to do better, but just not being able to. Often, the only thing we brought to the holidays was a bad attitude. In recovery, we are taught how to show up differently—even if our families are difficult, even we have no family at all.

It’s normal, especially if you are new, to be nervous about seasonal events. The best-kept secret of holiday sanity is to turn your focus towards how you can contribute. Give it a try: say yes, show up, and see what you can bring. If you get anxious, try pitching in to help with something. Wash some dishes, walk a dog, look for someone who appears more uncomfortable than you are. This formula can work magic. Who knows, you might end up feeling more connected and gain a renewed sense of self-worth.

Tap into Gratitude

As we’ve recently written, gratitude is a superpower. It has the potential to re-wire people’s brains towards increased feelings of health, well being, and better relationships. No matter how bad it might be, if we dig, we can always find a little something to be grateful for. The good news, according to recent research, is that gratitude for small things—like a cup of coffee, for instance—is just as powerful as gratitude for the big stuff.

The holidays can be loaded with expectations and stress. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Shifting our attention to gratitude can give us the mental reset we need for fresh perspective. And that perspective shift might be the key to actually enjoying the moment!

Give Something Back

Try shifting your focus this year from “stuff” to what you can give. Many non-profit organizations need end-of-year help or donations. Many elderly people find this time of year particularly lonely. Many 12-step meetings are filled with people who are suffering. If you don’t have people to be with during the holidays, go and find some. Volunteer, reach out and think of how others are doing.

Don’t Overdo It

Obviously, easier said than done for most addicts and alcoholics! Nevertheless, the most surefire way to lose your mind this holiday season is overcommit and overspend. Scheduling some downtime and making a budget can keep holiday excesses in check.

Regarding gift-giving: it is not necessary to mortgage your sanity to show your love. Racking up credit card debt will probably not help you feel calmer or more connected to others this holiday season. Try spending thoughtfully and showing your warm feelings for people with your behavior instead. Most people are very grateful for homemade gifts, or cards with a meaningful message written inside. If words aren’t your thing, an act of service (like helping someone shovel snow) can be an excellent way to show people you care about them.

When thinking about your schedule, remember than busyness doesn’t equal productivity. Making time for rest by not packing everything possible into a single day helps ensure you won’t end up burnt out and resentful.

Lastly, and most importantly, ask for help. If you feel like you need a little more support this holiday season, get in touch. We’d love to hear from you. We have a world-class team that is here to help you navigate the season successfully. 

After all, the best part of recovery is getting to re-write our stories. If the holidays have historically been hard for you, take the opportunity this year affords to try to do things differently. If you love this season, more power to you – go forth and spread some of that joy!

Good luck out there and have fun!